Introducing his book 'Narendra Modi, A Political Biography', Andy Marino makes two claims keeping in mind that he is adding to the list of biographies of a man who is regarded both as a villain and a hero. First, he says, this is no hagiography but a work of 'cold objectivity' and second, this was the first time an author or a journalist has gained so much access to this particular subject.
Are Marino's claims justified? He seeks in Modi's childhood the roots of his solitary existence, and finds them in his 'quiet stubbornness' and a strain of asceticism. The young Narendra first gave up eating salt, then followed it up with chillies and oil - which the author interprets as a sign of ambition, including social ambition, of a loner waiting on the sidelines wanting very much to get noticed.
At the age of eight Modi started attending the local shakha of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), where he met his mentor Laxmanrao Inamdar who played a pivotal role in forming the BJP prime ministerial candidate's political outlook.
The book reveals that Modi's leaving his ancestral home in Vadnagar at the age of 17 was tied to his child-marriage, a matter of tradition among Gujarati Ghanchis to which the Modis belonged. His 'engagement' happened when he was three, and he only came to know of this well into his teens. The clan plan was to ensure a limited period of co-habitation when he would turn 18 - a trigger that caused Modi to pack up and leave. Jashodaben - the girl in question and now an election issue herself - had laid her eyes on him just once.
Marino here editorialises a little, accusing the media of painting a picture of a 'unhappy, lonely, but still loving and faithfiul wife whose only hope is that one night Modi will come home for dinner.'
For the next two years (1967-69) Modi lived a nomad's life - carrying a small bag and never eating a meal at the same place more than once, which, Marino says is why he is indifferent to food. In the course of this travelling, he reoriented his life and 'rewired his brain' after being told by Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj at the Ramakrishna Mission in Rajkot that he was not cut out for the role of a monk. Modi thanked him.
Modi's rise as a RSS functionary has been described by the author with the help of several flattering anecdotes which show the politician as a sort of 'bandobast man' who could get things done and work the power levers - something that sits well with his ongoing election campaign.
During the Ayodhya episode, leading to the terrible climax of Babri Masjid being torn down, Modi managed to disappear into thin air. The author is in a bind as to whether this was a tactic to stay clear of the 'rough edges of Hindutva' or it was an innocent sabbatical. Marino tilts to the latter, although it is highly improbable that a RSS functionary-turned-BJP organization man would absent himself from the 'Ayodhya moment' to work for a school (Sanskardham school in Ahmedabad, his homage to mentor Laxmanrao Inamdar).
Then comes Godhra - the litmus test for any biographer of Narendra Modi. Marino exonerates him at an operational level, painting a picture of a desperate chief minister trying to manage an explosive situation. He actually puts the blame on the door of Gujarat's history of communal violence- "As the first sketchy reports of deaths came in, the awful truth of the situation began to dawn on Modi. Where were the police? The fact was he had inherited a state thoroughly marinated in decades of bitter communalism and was left with the consequences of this hate-filled history - a bigotry that infiltrated the political, bureaucratic and police structure at every level." The author's premise that the communal rage post Sabarmati Express incident was such an unstoppable fire that no state apparatus could have contained it anyway - is, and should be, open to furious debate.
Marino's book is indeed no hagiography, neither is it coldly objective. It warms up to Modi but is not dazzled by him, thereby leaving the after-taste of having read about someone who is more 'hero' than 'villain.' A wee bit though!
Title: Narendra Modi - A Political Biography
Author: Andy Marino
No. of Pages: 288